The “Independent” has reported the results of a Com Res Opinion poll [pdf] which shows that 63% of the public think that suspects should normally remain anonymous on arrest. The vociferous press campaign against anonymity over the past 2 months does not appear to have had any appreciable effect on public opinion.
The poll asked the question:
Do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements? People who are arrested should normally be named by police before a decision is made on whether they are charged with an offence and not afterwards? (Table 17, page 30)
The results were: 29% agreed, 63% disagreed and 7% did not know.
As the “Independent” points out, the view of the public is in line with the recently published College of Policing “Guidance on Relationships with the Media” [pdf]. This was also the view of Lord Justice Leveson and the senior judges responding to the Law Commission consultation. In April 2013 we had a post by Hugh Tomlinson QC on the justification for taking this approach: striking a balance between the rights of presumed innocent suspects to protect their privacy and reputation and the public right to know.
The issue has been the subject of a concerted press campaign against so-called “Secret Arrests” (see our post here) and, as the “Independent” points out, confused statements from politicians.
Under the College of Policing Guidance in relation to the naming of suspects:
“Decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis but, save in clearly identified circumstances, or where legal restrictions apply, the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released by police forces to the press or the public. Such circumstances include a threat to life, the prevention or detection of crime or a matter of public interest and confidence. This approach aims to support consistency and avoid undesirable variance which can confuse press and public (para 3.5.2).
In other words, the “default position” is that suspects should not be named – but names can be released in a wide range of circumstances for proper public purposes.
There is, of course, nothing to prevent the arrested suspect releasing his or her own name to the press. Anonymity on arrest does not mean the arrest is “secret” but only that the names of someone suspected of an offence but not charged should not, ordinarily, be made public without their consent.